Those were Banner days indeed

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‘An ode to my first job that did not involve cleaning up. At least not cleaning up after other people’s children’

Again, apologies for being a slacker. I seem to be getting later and later with my Tuesday posts. And I don’t even have the turkey to blame this week.

‘Curses, foiled again!’ said Mr. Turkey upon spying this clever foil

Hey, at least we didn’t use a slingshot, an idea suggested by a relative at that Fab Family Reunion I recently attended.

But I wasn’t always a slacker. I was a hard worker, even at a very early age. For one thing, my parents were firm believers in Kids Doing Chores. (I remember we got docked a nickel each day we didn’t make our beds; since our weekly allowance was only 25 cents, there were weeks when my brothers owed my Mom). I won’t go into a whole long list of these chores, but suffice it to say that I got my fill of ironing. And my brothers don’t often volunteer to clean out basements or dog pens.

Me, helping out with the laundry. At least they kept me away from the ironing board

To supplement our allowances, we kids were always on the lookout for money-making opportunities. My brothers had paper routes; I did tons of babysitting. (As you already know from stories like ‘Alice’s Adventures in Babysitting’.)

Me again, practicing up for my babysitting years. That’s Oldest Younger Brother Scott suffering (literally) a photo op in my arms

I was a pretty good babysitter. But, at least in those days, it paid very little money (50 cents an hour) for a whole lot of work (at least two kids per gig, sometimes up to six — and, trust me, you didn’t get more money for more kids). 

Well. One summer, like magic, I got this job at our local hometown newspaper, the Carlyle Union Banner. Which still exists, I’m happy to say. They even have a Facebook page. Now Carlyle was (and is) a small town. One where everybody knows everybody. And I am sure that my Dad pulled some strings to get me this job. He was a Rotary Club Buddy with the owner, for one thing. And it didn’t hurt that his engineering partner’s wife worked there and wanted to take summers off to be with her kids. (A fact of which I was blissfully unaware until I started writing this blog. Here’s a shoutout to you, Ruth!)

So my Dad helped me out. Which means I actually have something in common with Ivanka. But at the time all I knew was I got to go to work in a Real Office, like a Real Grownup. And make me some Real Money. I even had to get a social security card (!) My first paycheck was, I recall, $32.50. For a week. Plus a half day on Saturday. And a late night on Wednesday, which was Press Night.

Would you hire this girl? I mean for a Real Job that did not involve changing diapers?

So there I was, barely fifteen years old, and thinking I’m Brenda Starr. (Yes, no doubt you will have to click on that name to find out who the heck she was.) See, in addition to having ‘connections’, my dad knew that my dream was to work at a newspaper. I had even started a newspaper when I was in sixth grade. I typed it in the principal’s office after school and ran it off on the mimeograph machine. Which, if you remember those, gave off an aroma kind of like baking bread.

Well, wakeup call, Miss Brenda. The Banner may have been a small-town weekly, but it sure as heck wasn’t going to give writing assignments to a fifteen-year-old. At least not right away. I spent most of my time — dressed in my dress (one wore dresses and skirts to work in those days) — running errands, pasting things into or looking things up in The Morgue, and stamping the addresses on the papers to be mailed to out-of-town subscribers each week. (Which was a very messy, very inky job; I learned fast to devote one Special Already-Sort-of-Stained Dress to Wednesday nights.)

I also answered the phone and collected money for people’s ‘light bills’. Yes, in those days, folks would pay their electricity bills at the newspaper office. I’m not sure why, but I remember that the money was kept in a cigar box under the front desk.

Yes, this was a while ago. So long ago that when I started there, the Banner used a linotype machine. This was a big scary machine that melted bars of lead and formed them into metal ‘lines’ of ‘type’. You can read more about them here. Orie, its operator, was a skilled-though-idosyncratic guy who was even scarier. He rode his bike to work and (justifiably) didn’t like kids like me who ‘helped out’ at the paper very much. I kept out of his way — and brought him snacks.

Speaking of snacks, and kids like me who worked at the paper, there was another guy — Kenny — who worked there in the summers. He and I would help with ‘job work’, which is how the Banner made most of its money. ‘Job work’ was printing stuff like flyers and announcements and invitations. But the biggest ‘job’ of all was the program for the Clinton County Fair. This kid and I bonded over Dr. Peppers and Cheez Doodles purchased at the Scoreboard Tavern to tide us over long hours of collating and stapling while gazing at the cover photo of the Fair Queen — like two thousand times. I remember that Kenny turned me on to Aretha Franklin. (He brought a transistor radio to work.) But, being a naive high school girl, I was really embarrassed by the ‘sock it to me’ lyric in ‘Respect’.

Well, eventually, after trying my hand at dozens of newspaper-related tasks, including nearly shocking myself silly in the darkroom (I put my left hand into the developing bath while simultaneously — and stupidly — switching on the light table) I got to try a bit of writing.

They started me out easy, with weddings (which, as you know, I love). Weddings were a snap because each family filled out a ‘wedding form’, listing what the bride wore, who was in the wedding party, etc. All you had to do to write the story was, basically, vary the lead. So you’d write “Mary Smith, attired in antique lace and escorted by her father, was wed on Saturday to James Jones at the First United Methodist Church.” Or “Escorted by her father, Mary Smith was wed Saturday to James Jones at the First United Methodist Church. She was attired in antique lace.” (Carlyle being in Southern Illinois, “Smith” and “Jones” were not anywhere close to the real names in those weddings. I once memorably wrote the story for “Onken-Pigg Nuptials Held Saturday”.)

I graduated, eventually, to Real Reporting, like covering the meetings of the Clinton County Board of Supervisors. Which were about as exciting as you might imagine. (Hard wooden benches, no AC at the Courthouse.) But I loved this job, and returned to it all through high school. I even came back to work there every college break. (Including the year I got engaged. That’s my official engagement photo — for my first wedding, which you can, if so inclined, read about here — at the top of this post, taken against the fake-wood wall of the Carlyle Union Banner itself, where I was, yes, working at the time.)

I could go on and on with Banner reminiscences. Like, I once had a co-worker who sang Carpenters’ songs at her desk. (“Close to You” was her favorite, having been featured at her wedding; on the whole I think “sock it to me” was less embarrassing.) But now I think it’s time for another cup of coffee. And to check to see if the turkey fence has been breached.

See you next week. When I might tell the story about how I got into advertising instead of staying in ‘news’. Or not. I just remembered I still haven’t told the one about how Everything in Australia Can Kill You.

Amagansett, New York. August 2017

 

Looks like we got ourselves a HooHah!

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‘The Family Reunion, taken to a whole new (Henry) level’

Well, no one who appeared in one of my commercials died this week. (Are you still out there, Betty White?) Or not that I know of, anyway. So “HooHah” story it is.

Now let me be clear. The Henrys did not invent the “Family Reunion.” Family reunions have been around, oh, I’d say probably since the invention of Large Extended Families. No doubt some of you readers can recall sticky gatherings of seldom-seen aunts, uncles, and cousins featuring picnic tables laden with summer dishes like jello salads (urk) and glorified rice (yum). Games like Corn Hole (a real “thing”, I kid you not) and wiffle ball and sometimes even croquet would be played (though our “croquet” was decidedly non-Downton-Abbey-esque, involving lots of violent “sending” of opponents’, i.e. younger cousins’, balls, resulting in much wailing).

Gathering of the Henry Clan featuring sweaty, crying cousins (I’m down in front next to the boy sucking his thumb)

The other side of my family, the Petersons, had Family Reunions too. They even gave theirs an idiosyncratic name. I dimly recall attending something called the PAL Reunion in Belvidere Park. (This was in Belvidere, Illinois, the closest metropolitan area/gathering place for my farm-residing relations.) The “PAL” stood for, I believe, Peterson, Anderson, and Lindstrom. Yup, these were the Swedes.  Continue reading

So help me God

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‘The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth: jury duty in New York City’

Excuses, excuses. This week I’m late because I have to keep chasing a darned turkey out of my yard. Sorry if some of you out there like turkeys in your yards; not me. They leave too many ‘gifts’, if you get my drift.

Anyway. On to this week’s story. Which is about jury duty in New York. Now before you start yawning, let me assure you that it can be pretty darned fascinating. For one thing, they changed the rules a few years ago so that nobody — and I do mean nobody — gets out of serving. So it’s quite possible that you can find yourself killing time doing the crossword in a big ole waiting room with the likes of Madonna or Sir Paul or maybe even The Donald back when he lived in New York (But wait; He still does live in New York. But I don’t think he does the crossword.)

Used to be that you could get out of serving if you had a little kid at home, were a doctor, or owned your own business. (Check all three boxes for The Dude; now that those exceptions have been eliminated, he has to serve and it drives him nuts. He thinks up all kinds of “you may be excused” answers to their questions, like “Yes” to “Do you believe that everyone who is tried in this court is implicitly guilty?” and it just makes the lawyers love him all the more. He almost always gets picked.) Continue reading

HooHah Time is Story Time

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‘The one about the Big Midwestern Paper Company’

First, big fat apologies for being late with my story this week. I was Out West for a big ole family reunion (referred to in my fam, with infinite fondness, as a ‘Henry HooHah’). Many adventures were had which I honestly do not have the time nor the photos (yet) to go into right now, including a last-minute extra bonus day with my Favorite Sister Laura, courtesy JetBlue:


The one thing I can report right now is that, yes, many amusing stories were told at this HooHah, most while holding a glass of wine, and sometimes, if the story-teller was really really lucky, with an extremely cute baby in his or her lap.

Me, mid-story, no doubt, pacifying fussy-yet-still-adorable teething baby with nice cold wine bottle (chewy rubber spatula not having done the trick)

Oh, before I forget. The picture at the top of this post — the one showing me not really smoking but scaring my teensy niece by pretending to do so, was taken at one of the very first Henry HooHahs, held in Amagansett in, oh, I’m thinking, the early 90s. Yes, I was telling a story at the time. The one about the Chicago Manicurist shouting “Hold on to your son!” after being frightened by the sight of Middle Younger Brother Roger wearing a beret. (Someday, maybe, I’ll tell this one. But it involves using an accent, in a non-PC way at that, which would be tricky to relay in a blog post.) Continue reading

I just flew in from The Coast

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‘And boy, are my arms tired. (Old joke, couldn’t resist.)’

Ah, the miracles of modern travel. Sunday I was within wave-crashing distance to the Atlantic. And Monday I was smack-dab next to the Pacific. Funny, we say things like “It’s SUCH a long flight from New York to Portland — six whole hours!” Which seems like a long time till you consider that it once took months to get there in those wagon trains. Day after endless day heading due west. And those poor pioneers didn’t even have sunglasses.

I have to keep reminding myself that air travel is a wonderful miracle because I am such a nervous wreck when it comes to flying. Those of you who are my Facebook Friends already know this, and responded with great kindness (and many funny comments) when I posted this the other day:

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Stars in stripes

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‘Looking back and forth on the Fourth’

For the past several summers we’ve had this fun Fourth of July tradition where we let The Child fill up our house with as many of her friends as we have beds to lay their pretty little heads on. Sometimes it’s guys and girls; sometimes ‘just’ girls. The Dude and I are happy with either arrangement, though we have noticed that when it’s girls-only, the Young Friends seem more inclined to activity — like going to the beach, hopping on the bikes, or heading into town to catch what’s up at The Talkhouse.  

Last year’s crop of Nation’s Birthday Beauties. Haven’t wrestled this year’s photo out of The Dude’s camera yet. But, trust me, they’re equally sparkly

(The guys, when the guest list includes them, seem content to hang around The Compound, sipping beer and, well, being content. Sometimes they bestir themselves to demonstrate their CrossFit routines; there was a Matt-shaped indentation in our lawn for a few post-Fourth days one year. Oh, and one other memorable Fourth, Somebody’s BF soaked his iPhone in our hot tub, though not intentionally. BTW, putting a soaked iPhone into a jar of rice does not dry it out, no matter what you may have read on the internet.)

Speaking of food, this year I inaugurated a new tradition: The USA Birthday Cake. From Carvel, of course. No, we didn’t sing

But hey, anything anybody wants to do — or not do — is A-okay with me. I’m happy to provide food — beaucoup de food — and stay the heck out of the way. I was in the kitchen in the midst of doing just that when one of this year’s Young Lovelies (and they are — lovely — each and every one of them) strolled by on her way to the pool, and I happened to catch the unmistakable whiff of — Coppertone.

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“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas”?

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‘Not so fast, Facebook Friends. Not so fast.’

I was all ready to write an amusing Memory Lane type tale about my first Real Summer Job (the kind that did not involve babysitting, but did involve the procurement of a Social Security Card), when I saw this on Facebook:

Posted on June 25. Exactly six months before Christmas. I get it, I get it. But I don’t want to play, OK?

So, excuse me, but the First Real Job at the Carlyle Union Banner story will just have to wait. Because (speaking of waiting) I plan to wait till at least after Thanksgiving to begin my own Countdown to Christmas. A “countdown” that will be “brutish and short”, if not “nasty” (sorry, Thomas Hobbes).

Those of you who have read my rants (er, pieces) for a while know that Thanksgiving — not Christmas — is my absolute A-Number-One Favorite Holiday. Christmas, with its obligatory gift-and-tip-giving and endless trapped-in-an-elevator playings of “Little Drummer Boy” doesn’t even come close. (For an amusing and non-crabby recounting of Five Big Ways Christmas can’t hold even a red cinnamon-scented candle to Thanksgiving, just click here.)

‘Little Children Forced to Greet Benevolent Uncles dressed as Scary Santas’ isn’t on my list, but probably should be

The other reason I’m not even close to being ready for a Countdown to Christmas is that I haven’t even begun my Countdown to the Fourth yet. And the Fourth of July is coming up this very next weekend. So I’d better get a wiggle on, as they say where I come from. Continue reading